The piece of flash fiction I’ve written for today is a bit longer than usual. Enjoy:
|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
JOHNNY LIU LOVES CINDY SUE
By Don Travis
Loves Cindy Sue
And Cindy Sue
Loves him, too.
John Raymond Liu remembered the day he carved that sentiment into a bald spot on the old oak. Providence, itself, must have cleared the rough bark from that particular spot precisely big enough for a signpost to hold his proclamation, their juvenile whims. Dreams.
He pulled his Burberry cashmere overcoat tighter around his stocky frame before removing one suede glove to touch the weathered lettering with a bare forefinger. A sensation fully as sharp and tingling as when he’d first taken his Swiss Army knife to the tree some forty-odd years ago surged through him. His heart soared like a nestling eagle taking to the air for the first time to kiss soft-faced clouds and ride brilliant sunbeams before crashing to ground, as if he’d missed his landing.
Uncharacteristically weak, John leaned against the trunk and let his cheek warm the letters forming her name. Cindy Sue. A tear leaked out of one eye, making him glad he’d left his driver in town and maneuvered the Mercedes Maybach the eight miles to the old Lintner farm himself.
Fighting the emptiness of grief and the roiling of misery, he slipped to the ground with his back against the bole—caring not a whit that the left leg of his Balenciago suit pants rested in a small puddle of mud—and allowed his mind to wander back as he sought to recapture their youth, their love…their essence.
He met her when they were both fifteen at a school-sponsored sock hop. He’d been aware of her ever since his family moved to this small farm town, but as the only Orientals in the county—in the state, for all he knew—they were outsiders. Personally confident but socially shy, he’d never mustered the courage to speak to her or cultivate a friendship. Mary Sue Lintner belonged to what amounted to aristocracy in Okartex, Oklahoma, someone beyond his station. Yet whenever he was in class with her, he went to extra lengths to demonstrate his mental acuity, thereby raising the grade point average and driving the football jocks crazy. He taxed his lungs to the maximum by straining to excel in races—fifty and hundred-yard dashes, the only sports activity he indulged—when she was in the crowd of spectators.
At that dance—the dance—he’d shucked his penny loafers along with everyone else before walking onto the gymnasium floor. He’d worn his best socks, thick and furry, so as not to embarrass himself, but he noticed many had worn heels, some with threadbare patches little more than outright holes. An occasional toe poked out here and there. Perhaps he should have dug out a pair of worn socks so as not to remind everyone that the Lius were among the few affluent families in town. The Palace Cleaners and Self-Service Laundromat thrived while others lagged.
The hop was halfway over, and he hadn’t screwed up the nerve to ask a single girl to dance, when he beheld this blonde vision standing in front of him. Mary Sue Lindner. Beauty personified. The Goddess of Purity and Femininity in human form.
John’s blood stirred to the beat of ethereal music as he recalled that dance. She molded to him, unafraid that his race, his yellowness, would rub off on her. They moved, hesitantly at first, and then with rhythm and purpose. She whispered in his ear, asking questions, exhibiting curiosity… no interest in him. The vinyl recording of Danny and the Juniors singing "At the Hop" sent other couples bouncing energetically, yet they moved slowly, intimately.
Casual meetings followed that magic night. Then a date… sort of. He asked her to the annual Harvest Fair… along with several other kids. Then their first real date, to a movie where she’d marveled at stately homes called Tara and Twelve Oaks. He’d boldly promised to build her one someday and then nearly died of mortification at being so presumptuous. But she laughed and switched from an Oklahoma twang to a southern accent to say she’d hold him to that promise.
Miracle of miracles, they’d stood against the town and their families, even against the prejudices of the time to become an item. A couple. Lovers. And eventually, bride and groom. His father had disinherited him for marrying outside his own race. Hers had done little better, simply cutting off communication for a period of years. But they’d persevered. He’d borrowed capital from an uncle in Taiwan and opened his own shop, spending hours every day seeing that all the clothing entrusted to his care was cleaned properly, snags repaired and buttons replaced gratuitously, going that extra mile to bind customers to him. He became so successful, he bought his father’s business and appropriated the honored title of Palace Cleaners as his own.
They worked side-by-side for long hours, happy in success and comfortable in marriage. But it required more in order to keep his casual but sincere promise to build Cindy Sue her own Tara. He opened another shop in a nearby town. She handled the original; he, the new one. Two shops became three, and then four. Little Raymond came along, which took some of Cindy’s time away from the business. When Susan arrived, Cindy became a full-time mother.
Even so, driven by an urge to keep youthful promises and to succeed at something in which he excelled, John opened new businesses, spending countless hours searching out competent, reliable managers and opening additional shops.
One day, he paused to discover he was no longer Johnny and she wasn’t Cindy Sue. They were Mr. John Raymond Liu and Mrs. Cynthia Susan Lintner Liu. Shocked that the years had stolen by so swiftly, he took stock of his life and realized he’d never built Cindy Sue’s Tara. They had a nice, comfortable home, but it wasn’t a mansion. Other trappings of wealth were there—cars, beautiful clothes, golden and bejeweled trinkets, stocks and bonds stuffed in bank boxes—but there was no mansion.
When he announced his intention to begin construction, she pulled him to her and kissed his cheek softly. “It’s been a good life, hasn’t it? This round-eyed white girl and her slant-eyed yellow boy made it work, didn’t we?”
He laughed as she called up some of the vitriol they’d endured early in their union. “We made it work. It’s been wonderful. I just wish I’d spent more time with you and the children.”
“Maybe you can do that now, instead of taking on a new project.”
He frowned. “You mean instead of building your Tara?”
She nodded and gave a faint smile. “I want you, not some brick and wood palace. There’s something I haven’t told you, John. I have this lump in my breast.”
That had been a year ago. He’d immediately turned his business enterprises over to his son, now an adult with a family of his own, and belatedly devoted himself to his wife. The ensuing months had been almost equal parts euphoria and pain. Of loving and suffering. And then her strength gave out. Exhausted, she succumbed to the cancer that spread beyond the doctor’s capacity to control it. The unselfish part of him welcomed her freedom from pain and suffering, but the Johnny Liu of the old oak on the Lintner farm raged against her fate. Her funeral earlier that day drove him back to this spot where they’d first promised themselves to one another.
How could he have believed that chasing a Tara was more important than spending time with his Cindy Sue?
I sincerely hope you do not wake up one morning and discover yourself in Johnny’s Gucci loafers. In a sense, we all squander our youth and early adulthood… or so it seems from the second half of your life. At any rate, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that it happens, and perhaps give a caution to others.
Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting. If you feel like it, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-city-of-rocks-don-travis/1126419974
See you next week.
New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.